Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Running After Cancer and Chemo

Running After Cancer and Chemo

I went running (well, for the most part, walking) in my new Asics running shoes, and I soon forgot that I was wearing them, which I guess is as good a test as any as to whether a pair of running shoes is good or bad.

I took our digital camera with me in case I saw anything interesting, and the first interesting thing I saw was an exercise bike. What was interesting was that to solve a space problem, the owner had decided to keep it outside on the street, just down from the illegally parked motorbike.

At the top of this blog entry is my photo of the exercise bike, parked on the slope leading up to the ridge that I have to climb to descend to my daughter's daycare center:

Any vehicle you see parked by the road is illegally parked because you're supposed to have your own piece of dirty, owned or rented, to park it. In fact, in Japan, you can't police permission to buy an automobile unless you can prove that you do have a parking space for the vehicle you hope to own.

After I started teaching at Waniguchi Gakko, one of the English conversation textbooks I began working with had a lesson about good and bad neighbors. And one of my students surfaced the fact that one of her neighbors is the neighbor from hell.

If you have guests drop by for the evening and they leave their car parked by the side of the road, then this neighbor will call the cops. Japan is a country where, if you call the police, they come, now, and none of this "Oh, well, if nobody's been killed, we're not interested business."

Summoned by the neighbor from hell, the cops will reliably show up and tow the car, and the guest who made the mistake of parking by the roadside will have to pay a substantial amount of money to get it back.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

2008 Beijing Genocide Olympics

2008 Beijing Genocide Olympics

I was struck by an opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune in which two reasonably high-powered American-based academics, both of Chinese descent, try to defend China's policies toward Sudan, and take issue with the increasingly popular notion that the 2008 Olympics in Beijing will be the genocide Olympics.

What really stood out about this opinion piece was that it is childish, or, at best, sophomoric, and I was surprised that responsible editors, first the editor of The Boston Globe and then the editor of the IHT, had seen fit to give it house room.

The two Chinese authors are not, I presume, in the pay of the Chinese government, but they might as well be, because their opinion piece is pure Ministry of Truth propaganda.

They mask the bare simplicities of the undeniable facts by trying to have us believe that the issues surrounding China's involvement in Sudan are complicated, nuanced, and by no means as simple as they seem at first blush.

I don't buy that for a moment.

What is happening in Darfur is genocide, pure and simple, a rape, kill and pillage operation that neither Genghis Khan nor Atilla the Hun would have had any trouble understanding, despite their lack of a modern university education.

In broad outline, the Islamic government of Sudan is facilitating the mass murder of black Africans living in Darfur, a region in the west of Sudan. This slaughter is being carried out by Arab militias who think that they are doing the work of God by using rape, murder and arson as instruments of ethnic cleansing. Their goal is to extirpate Darfur's black Africans, who do not adhere to their religion, and who are seen as being subhuman.

China's role in this affair is, amongst other things, the role of weapons supplier. China knowingly sells Sudan the weapons which are being used for the Darfur genocide.

In an act of stunning intellectual dishonesty, China's two academic cheerleaders pass over this fact in silence. In effect, they are lying by omission.

In addition to handing out the guns and ammo, China also supports Sudan's genocidal regime with direct aid, millions of dollars in pocket money with no strings attached. Additionally, China invests in Sudan's oil industry.

The two Chinese authors say, in part, that "Beyond development cooperation, China's principle of exerting influence but not interfering and imposing is consistent with African practice, and the final political decisions will have to be made by Africans."

If you're at the zoo and you're videotaping a lion in the process of mauling a hapless tourist to death, are you, by playing that passive spectator role, be in some sense "exerting influence." Well, you're certainly not interfering, nor are you imposing.

The subtext of the article seems to be that interfering and imposing are wrong when we're dealing with Africa. But certain regimes in Africa are run by thugs, tyrants, kleptocrats or out-and-out monsters, an example of an out-and-out monster being Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

If we don't judge these people by our own standards, if we not just ignore but connive at bald-faced evil on the grounds that it is "consistent with African practice," then we become morally responsible for that evil.

By facilitating the genocide in Darfur, China is morally responsible for that genocide.

The authors seek to attribute the West's criticism of China's policies as an act of diversion. In particular, the United States of America is accused of trying to "divert public attention" from, wait for it, America's "oil-centered foreign policy" in the Twentieth Century, and its breach of UN sanctions against apartheid South Africa.

This is cloud cuckoo ideation. The adjective asinine, which I have never had occasion to employ before, seems apposite. Who, right now, in Brazil, Bolivia or Bhutan, is concerned about the rights or wrongs of America's petroleum policy in the previous century? And who, right now, in Cape Town, Johannesburg or Pretoria, is up in arms about American sanctions busting?

To complete this intellectual debacle, the authors finish with the following paragraph:

"If there is a linkage between the Darfur crisis and Beijing Olympics, it should be in the West and China together using the spirit of the Olympics - mutual understanding, friendship, solidarity and fair competition - with their sympathetic hearts to collectively create a better future for Darfur."

When Adolf Hitler was busy cranking up genocide in Germany, the rest of the world came to his Olympic games and played, judging that the Olympic spirit trumped any worries about expendable people (Jews, gypsies, gays, Communists and dissident priests) destined for gas chambers and incinerators.

Given a choice between allowing the 2008 games to be a propaganda coup for the People's Republic of China or pining the genocide label home where it belongs, I think that we should clearly state that the 2008 Olympics is, indeed, going to be the genocide Olympics.

The two clowns who perpetrated this propaganda stunt are Jason Qian, a fellow at the Harvard Negotiation Project at Harvard Law School, and Anne Wu, a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Cheng (Jason) Qian is currently at work on "a collaborative research/training program on bridging western and eastern negotiation theories and practices."

Whether he can be considered as an independent academic in the Western sense is, to my mind, unclear. He has in the past been a part of the machinery of China's government, for we read about him the following:

"Prior to coming to the US, he was senior expert on E-governance in Ministry of Supervision of China. His work covered e-government development, organizational reform, good governance, and knowledge management."

I don't find his e-mail address on the one page about him that I downloaded, but maybe I could find it if I looked harder.

His fellow author, Xiaohui (Anne) Wu, to my surprise, has not just her e-mail address but her telephone number and fax number online. To avoid being abusive, I won't give any of that data here, even though I assume it's all just her university coordinates.

Her specialty is atomic war, so, understandably, she's currently focused on North Korea, and she's teamed up before with Jason Qian on a couple of pieces related to North Korea. A cabal of two, evidently.

The reason why she speaks like a mouthpiece of the government of the People's Republic of China is no secret. If you Google him, you can find, amongst other things, the following information:

"Prior to joining Harvard University, she was a career diplomat serving as the Director of the Political & Press Department in the Embassy of China to Singapore and the chief analyst of the Asian Department of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China."

With that background, I'd trust her to tell me about Singapore, but not about China and Darfur.

To get a simple background briefing on Darfur I went to the Wikipedia page on the subject, which gives a useful collection of links. If you want pictures, video, details, then follow the links.

In my quest for an enlarged understanding of the Darfur issue, one of the Wikipedia links I followed led me to an article by a Muslim writer who takes issue with the notion that the conflict in Darfur is between Islamic "Arabs" and non-Islamic blacks. In his opinion, everyone on both sides of this conflict is an adherent of the Islamic faith.

He is R.S. O’Fahey, who, writing in Islamica Magazine. He is Professor of History at the University of Bergen, Norway, and he is writing in November 2006. That is the "present" of which he says the following:

"From 2003 to the present, Darfur has been subject to all the biblical woes: war, famine, rape (on a horrendous scale), looting, etc., carried out by the Arab nomad militias, the notorious janjaweed (“devils on horseback”), in conjunction with the Sudanese army. Small mountain villages built out of stone and millet stalks have been repeatedly attacked with oil barrel bombs filled with stones and pieces of metal. These are tossed from Antonov transports into the center of the villages, killing or maiming mainly women and children. These attacks are then followed by a posse of Janjaweed horsemen charging in to rape or kill survivors, a policy that has been absolutely lethal.

"It is difficult for outsiders to comprehend the sheer scale of death, destruction and misery in Darfur. Visiting the IDP camps in 2005 was traumatic; I have a 5-year-old Sudanese grandson in Oslo, Norway, but the 5-year olds in the camps looked nothing like my Bushra.

"Khartoum has kept the Western media largely out while the Arab media seems to be generally indifferent. Why is the latter the case? Why are Muslims not more vocal about what is happening in Darfur?"

This is the truth of what is happening on the ground in Darfur. The news in recent months has all been of things getting worse, not getting better, so this situation is obviously neither self-healing nor self-limiting. Hence the growing concern of the wider world, when it does not have its attention firmly focused on other issues, such as the upcoming movie about the Simpsons, or the release of the latest Harry Potter book.

I confess, at this juncture, that I, for my part, have spent more time in the last few months reading about Paris Hilton and her escapades than about the more serious issues that beset the world. But I assume that I am not alone in sining thus.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Shopping In Ginza

I don't often go shopping in Ginza, and, in fact, prior to my recent visit, had not been there since 2003, when my parents were visiting Japan. On that occasion we didn't buy anything.

On Saturday July 21, when I took a train to Gina, I didn't buy anything. But my wife did. She bought me my birthday present, a pair of Asics shoes for my new post-cancer all-cured-now-maybe running program.

My running program has already started, but the start was a bit shaky. I planned to go by way of the sacred carvings, but the route I had in mind proved to be impractical, for the simple reason that it didn't exist. It was imaginary, a spurious figment of my damaged brain.

Finally, I found the carvings themselves, as the photographic evidence shows. One photo shows the guy's business premises, with some read-for-purchase-for-your-graveyard stonework sitting in his street level garage. The other photo shows part of the clutter of finished objects he has parked by the public road directly across the street. Totally illegal, I'm sure.

Both photos show typical features of suburban Japanese streets. While big city areas such as Ginza have proper sidewalks, pavements are lacking in most urban streets. What you have, instead, is lines painted on the tarmac to delineate a sanctuary for pedestrians, which will, in practice, be routinely violated by parked cars, moving cars and lawless cyclists who will come at you from either direction.

Given that the road that goes past the sacred carvings is quite busy, I thought it best to walk it first, to get familiar with the route, before trying running.

If you head on down the road you eventually come to a track or road or path or set of steps or something which leads you up to the top of a hill, from where you can descend, making a circle. So far, although I've found many ways to get up the hill, I haven't found the route that leads to the top, so I plan to tackle the hill from the other side, because on the other side I do know (or think I know) a road that goes right to the top.

For these preliminary explorations I've been going forth in an old pair of running shoes which have pretty much had it.

The reason my wife took me to Ginza was that Asics has a shop there which has high-tech gadgetry which will measure your feet so the shoes you buy will be shoes that fit.

A lot of places in Tokyo do not open up until ten in the morning, or even later. But my wife had researched the Asics setup online and had discovered that their Ginza shop is open from 0900 on Saturdays, so, with three-year-old daughter Cornucopia at the daycare center, and not due to be picked up until 1400, we went forth, arriving at about 0930.

The Asics shop is very white, with whitish steel steps leading up to the second floor (in Japan, the floor one floor up from the ground floor), and with a bloody potplant, of all things, sitting in the curve of the stairs.

The stairs are pretty wide and, because the plant had green leaves, I could see it against the general whiteness, but I did think it was pretty stupid, in principle, to put an obstacle on a stairway. In my opinion, safety considerations should trump interior decorating.

To measure your feet, you take off shoes and socks then put your naked feet, one at a time, in a special compartment. A store clerk applies some stick-on dots to each foot. A cover is placed around your foot, shrouding the interior, suggesting that something dangerous is inside. When I asked what scanning technology was used, I was told, lasers, in conjunction with four cameras, combined to give a 3D image.

As your foot is scanned, you see the scanning image emerge on a display screen right in front of you, and, if you want, the shop will give you a printout when you leave.

Asics has sizes to 32 centimeters. I came in wearing a shoe 27 centimeters long but the pair my wife ended up buying for me are 27.5 cm.

Asics is open from 0900 on Saturdays

It turns out that my left foot is four millimeters longer than the right, and that the right foot is wider than the right, something I found out years ago when my mother said, "Oh, Hugh, did you realize you have a huge bunion on your foot?" I didn't, had never been conscious of its existence, but as soon as my mother drew my attention to it, the thing immediately began to ache, and continued to ache for some weeks until I forgot about its existence.

After going to Ginza on Saturday, my wife and I then took the Hibya Line to Nakameguro and went to a French restaurant, where we had an 1130 lunch booking. I had the minestrone soup and spicy lamb with couscous, and I believe my wife had fish. And we both had a glass of sparkling white with the meal.

The next day we did food shopping in the basement of the cheaper of our two local supermarkets, then went upstairs so my wife could buy hand towels. Daughter Cornucopia found a computer amidst the children's toys so I bought it for her.

It's only 920 yen and it's a suitable toy for a child. It has a keyboard which has a key for each of the letters in the Japanese hiragana syllabic alphabet, and each key speaks itself when you press it.

The screen is a kind of magic slate. You run a stylus across the clear plastic at the front and, magically, gray lines appear. Then, if you move a lever, all the gray goes away, and you are left with the off-white screen.

I first saw this update of the slate and stylus idea in my parents house, where such a slate was on hand for the use of my sister's kids when they come visiting. I have no idea how these things work, and, to be frank, I find them pretty magical.

On the Saturday, my daughter had been asking what kind of computer she could have when she finally got her own. Could she have a strawberry one? And was there a Snoopy one? I answered, quite simply, that I had no idea.

The one that she found in the supermarket, and that I bought, is strawberry-colored.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Update And Correction

I realize I've mindlessly misstated the date of the earthquake which recently damaged a nuclear reactor in the north-west of Japan. The day was Monday, not Sunday.

Today's newspaper reports that lids came off some barrels containing low-level nuclear waste. And I learnt that the local mayor did not actually have the authority to close down the nuclear power plant. What he did have, under fire safety regulations, was the power to order a halt to activities which might constitute a fire hazard, and by invoking this power he, in effect, forced the reactor facility to shut down.

In other news, last night I briefly saw, on TV, a guy I recognized as the president of Hope Meat, the disgraced Hokkaido meat company. I thought he might commit suicide, but evidently he hasn't. Perhaps he's shameless.

More news about Hope Meat has been oozing out over the last few weeks. They economized, apparently, by using rain water rather than tap water to defrost some frozen meat they were going to process into food. Assuming the rain water comes from the roof, and it's hard to see where else it would come from, it's it's axiomatically going to be contaminated by bird poop, since birds are in the habit of pooping on any roof they find under their wingspan.

Additionally, if I followed a Japanese-language news broadcast correctly, some years back the company abandoned the practice of having the legally mandated tests for salmonella performed. Instead, it simply forged paperwork which said that its bacon and sausages were salmonella-free.

I assume that by now the whole Hope Meat scandal has been dragged out into the open, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm wrong.

Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Blatently Dumps Carbon Emissions Into Atmosphere

When the 7 pm NHK news came on yesterday, Wednesday 18 July 2007, the top story featured film of smoke billowing up from a nuclear power plant in the north-west of Japan. Part of it was on fire and burning, having been earthquake ignited.

The earthquake that hit on Sunday, inconveniencing me and mine by delaying our train's departure from Tokyo, was not an end-of-the-world earthquake. It was 6.8 on the Japanese magnitude scale, a tweaked version of the Richter scale. A "tweaked" version is used in Japan to accommodate the cultural demands of Japan's cult of uniqueness, a cult to which pretty much every citizen of Japan ascribes. Japanese earthquakes must, necessarily, be very special only-in-Japan earthquakes, unlike any other earthquakes in Japan.

Using the conventional Richter scale, a United States outfit clocked the quake at 6.6.

Since this nuclear power plant was sitting in a major earthquake zone, the zone which goes by the name of Japan, the occasional shake is only to be expected. But, alarmingly, this not-all-that-massive earthquake exceeded the design specifications of the plant, and, for the first time ever in Japan, radiation leaked as a direct consequence of earthquake damage.

The authorities made the usual soothing noises, saying something like, relax, dudes, it's not that bad, it's just some of the soft little teddy bears of radiation coming out to play. But they were lying. Or, to put it another way, they were being economical with the truth.

When I opened up this morning's paper, I saw that it's been revealed that the radiation leak is, surprise surprise, more serious than earlier advertised, and that the mayor of the city which has the power plant in its neighborhood, the mayor of Kashiwazaki, has ordered the plant to close down until experts can verify that it is safe.

And first I thought, hey, way to go! But then I thought: wait a moment. Just how does this end up being the mayor's business? Japan has a government, and on TV we've seen the Japanese government very prominently playing at being in charge of the disaster, so how come the mayor was left to handle this problem on his lonesome? Where was Prime Minister Abe and where were all the knights of his round table when this monster was spewing up splitting atoms?

Apparently nobody is expecting this plant to go Chernobyl, and the part that was seen on TV last night burning does not house one of the reactors. But, even so. There are questions to be asked here, obviously.

To correct something that I stated in my last blog entry, it's not clear that "it looks as if the new Mongolian yokozuna (grand champion) is going to win the Emperor's Cup for the second time in a row." I thought this guy, Hakuho, was doing fine, but when I glanced at the back page of the newspaper last night, I saw a photo of him being bounced on his backside by Kotomitsuki.

Yesterday, Kotomitsuki was beaten in turn by Asashoryu, and, plainly, the Emperor's Cup is up for grabs.

In yesterday's blog entry I noted that my three-year-old daughter had been demanding to be allowed to wear her precious one-piece but that her mother had been refusing permission on the grounds that it was too cold. But I forgot to say how this ended up working out.

In the event, yesterday, the demanding daughter ended up going to the daycare center sensibly dressed in jeans, but this morning, having once again made the "one-piece" demand, she was granted what she wanted, and went to daycare dressed in that.

The daughter is seen in the photo at the top of this blog entry dressed in the said one-piece, shortly before saying goodbye to NHK's morning TV for kids on channel three and heading out for the daycare.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Difficulties of the Demanding Daughter

Okay, if you have a daughter, which we do, then eventually you move into the world of clothing wars. I understand that. I did grow up with a sister in the house, and I do have a couple of clues as to how the girl's life thing works. But my concept was always that clothing wars start later. Not right now.

Maybe, say, at age nine. Miss Nine has to go to school and there's a big problem because she only has twenty-five dresses, so she has absolutely nothing to war, and, no, the red one, that's out of the question, because she wore that only last week, on Wednesday, and all the other girls have plenty of nice clothes, so why doesn't she?

Nine, maybe. But now? At age three. Of course not.

Thinking thus, I was startled this week to hear three-year-old Cornucopia set up an insistent wailing chant.

"One piece! One piece!"

She insisted that she would wear her beloved one piece. But her mother insisted that she wouldn't. Because it was cold. As it was, cold in the aftermath of typhoon number four, the largest storm to hit Japan in fifty years.

Typhoons always come approximately from the south and end up heading off in a more or less northerly direction. As they depart, they typically drag in masses of tropical air from the south, so the stereotypical day after a typhoon is a day of blue skies, intense sunlight and glorious heat.

But for some weird meteorological reason, which was explained on the TV weather news, but which I didn't understand, this typhoon, while heading north, has caused cold air to be dragged in from the north-east, making the aftermath both cold and wet, adding to the discomfort of the survivors of the big earthquake which hit on Sunday 15 July, killing nine, damaging a nuclear power station which (very alarmingly!) was not designed to cope with an earthquake of this magnitude, injuring hundreds and forcing thousands to flee their home as refugees.

We, attempting to travel north to Gunma Prefecture on that Sunday, had our 1110 train delayed until 1125, and had our terminus switched from Deepest Gunma, the place we had been planning to go directly to, to Ota, where we had to change trains.

It ended up being a long day, and on the Monday, when we woke at 0630 on Monday morning at my mother-in-law's house, we were all tired. But daughter Cornucopia, the human alarm clock who had roused us, insisted that we get up, now, now!

I was tired and suggested we go back to sleep, but my wife concurred with Cornucopia. Who, about one hour later, was complaining that she was sleepy, and wanted to go to sleep.

On the Saturday, Cornucopia had been complaining that she had a belly ache. The rain of the incoming typhoon had started to fall in our part of Yokohama, so my wife told Cornucopia that she'd better not be kidding, and then we headed off to the kids' clinic, which is not where we live but a train journey distant, at a place called Myorenji.

We had no appointment, and the clinic was crowded, so we had to wait for hours, literally. Eventually, Cornucopia, having grown tired of waiting, declared, triumphantly, "Naotta!" Meaning, hey, guys, my prayer to Lourdes has done the trick, I'm cured, so can we all go home now?

Just after that declaration my daughter's name was called, so my wife took her in to see the doctor, who said there was nothing fundamentally wrong with her, just that her stomach had gotten cold because of sleeping without her haramaki, her stomach warmer (not to be confused with a harumaki, which has almost the identical pronunciation, but which means spring roll.)

That Saturday, I was tasked to play with Cornucopia as the rain fell and my wife did the vacuum cleaning. We played picnics with Cornucopia's plastic cooking set, and, when we were ready to do pretend eating with real plastic food, Cornucopia insisted, very strongly, that we say grace.

She then began to recite the Christian grace that she always says (in Japanese, of course) before partaking of food at the Christian daycare center she attends. Yielding to her demands, I said the only grace I know, which goes "For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful."

The bottom line is that we have in our household, now, someone who is very much a person, in some ways quite the young lady, and who very clearly knows her own mind.

The typhoon whimpered past us without giving us so much as a single buffet, because our house sits in the elbow of a ridge which comes in from the west then makes an angle and heads north. Snug in that elbow, we are sheltered from winds which come from the south or the east, and the typhoon, as it passed over us, always had its strength either to the south or the east.

Even when our house has taken the full fury of a typhoon, we have never had any structural worries. Most houses in Japan are built to code and can ride out the power of the actual wind without trouble. Catastrophe strikes when steep hillsides, saturated with water, destabilize and take the avalanche route downhill, and this was what happened in the south of Japan during typhoon number four, wiping out roads, destroying rail links and sweeping away a random assortment of houses into the bargain.

We have a similar phenomenon in New Zealand, landslides which we refer to as "slips," which have an identical geological cause: the terrain of New Zealand, like the terrain of Japan, is dominated by fairly young hills and mountains which, being steep, have not yet eroded down to the point of quiescence, and are inherently unstable.

Apart from the typhoon and the earthquake, there has been no major news here in Japan apart from the recent elections, which I haven't been following. What I have been following is the latest sumo tournament, in which it looks as if the new Mongolian yokozuna (grand champion) is going to win the Emperor's Cup for the second time in a row.

In household news, I have finally gone and done something I've been thinking of doing for some time. I've bought a second-hand Japanese-language Windows XP computer and have set it up for my wife to use, replacing the computer she has been using for some years now, the very first Windows computer I ever bought, which has sixty-four megabytes of RAM and runs a Japanese-language version of Windows 98, and operating system which Microsoft no longer supports.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Some time in the recent past, in a corridor in a certain building in the city of Yokohama, here in Japan, a group of women were standing in a line. All the women were Japanese, and they were standing facing the windows of a certain room.

The windows had been papered over, but eyeholes had been cut in the paper at heights suitable for Japanese women, so they could peer inside at the captives who were incarcerated in the room. Some of the captives were males of the species, some female.

The women seemed amused by what they were observing, peeping at the creatures who were on display, who were oblivious of the fact that they were on display.

Because I was there, standing in that line, doing my own share of peeping, the one and only man mixed in with the women, I could observe their behavior and could hear what they were saying.

"Boys attack to girls!" said one of the Japanese women.

I looked, and, yes, sure enough, a group of four boys had attacked to a pair of girls, who they had bailed up in a corner. One of those girls was my three-year-old daughter, Aiko Cornucopia Boadicea Nishikawa, and the Japanese woman who had spoken in English was my wife, the elegant Murasaki Nishikawa.

We had gone to the local daycare center for an official peeping morning. It was scheduled during the working week, which was why no fathers were there, apart from me. All the fathers had to be at work. Under normal circumstances, my wife would have been at work, too, but she had taken time off for the peeping, which started at 0900 and was to finish at twelve noon.

The current sumo tournament is in full swing, and, inspired by this, wife and daughter have recently been practicing sumo in the living room. So I watched the attacked girls keenly, hoping to see some sumo technique brought into play against the aggressive girls. But I couldn't see what was happening because the girls disappeared from view as the boys pressed home the attack, at which point a teacher broke it up.

When I show up at the daycare center to drop off my daughter in the morning and to pick her up in the evening, all the kids are usually rushing around like maniacs, and this what a lot of them were doing. Naturally, a certain number of boys were, from time to time, bashing other boys, requiring the teachers to do more conflict control. But, while we were there, only one bashed boy actually burst into tears.

While most of the boys were active and aggressive, a group of three were quietly playing together in the center of the room, doing nurturing stuff with dolls and blankets. This was what some of the girls were doing, too.

Cornucopia seems to be flourishing at the daycare center. She's usually in a good mood when I pick her up in the evenings, and runs around outside for fifteen minutes or so before we head for home.

Developmentally, her language skills are coming along pretty impressively, although the language she is acquiring is mostly Japanese. Toilet training continues to be a work in progress, and recently my wife has drawn my attention to the fact that she has been over-doing the thumb sucking, something which I'm told she has promised to stop.

On the bright side, after enormous difficulties involving evening toothbrushing, Cornucopia has finally decided that, yes, she will brush her teeth. Without a fuss. When she's in the mood.

It was interesting to see the little kids in action. As I watched, a little uncomfortably because I was bent over to stoop to peep at holes set at Japanese woman height, I wondered if my wife regretted having abandoned her initial career track. Originally, her first professional training had been as a teacher of little itty-bitty kids. Did she regret the road not taken? I didn't think so.

What struck me about the scene in the daycare center was just how hard the staff work. You've got to keep your eye on a million things at once, always aware that the capabilities of little kids run far in advance of their wisdom and discretion.

In terms of financial compensation, people who work with little kids are right at the bottom of the educational heap, but I don't really think that's appropriate. Working with little kids is some of the hardest work there is, and, also, in my view, some of the most important work there is.

I left the peep show after about an hour, because I was tired. And, additionally, had computer work I wanted to get done. My wretched XP system had fallen over again, this time refusing to read the SanDisk in a card reader. Additionally, the Paint program had fallen over, much to my displeasure, as I was in the middle of making a map for a fantasy book I have in progress, ANOINTED OF KINGS.

A couple of days later, after I'd finished reverting the computer to factory conditions, Paint was working again, and I got the map finished. The map is at the top of this blog entry, and, all going to plan, will feature on the back cover of ANOINTED OF GOD, which looks, at this stage, as if it is going to be the next novel that I finish and get published, probably some time this year.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Political Firestorm Over Incineration Of Inhabitants of Hiroshima And Nagasaki

Political Firestorm Over Incineration Of Inhabitants of Hiroshima And Nagasaki

In case you haven't noticed, here in Japan the Minister of Defense, Fumio Kyuma, has opened his mouth really, really wide and has gone and stuck both feet in it, saying, in effect, that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was okay by him. And the unpleasant wet stuff has well and truly hit the fan.

He didn't go so far as to say, "Wow, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, those were two real fun barbecues, I wish I'd been there to have my share of hamburgers."

But what he said was bad enough.

He said this:

"I understand that the bombing ended the war, and I think that it couldn't be helped."

The response of the mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Naue, was to label the atomic bombing of the two cities as the "indiscriminate massacre of ordinary citizens."

Meantime, this comment from Seitaro Kuroda, currently in New York and busy with an anti-war show.

He says he could not believe that "a Japanese politician would legitimize the atomic bombing."

In the Minister of Defense's comments he senses "an aim to weaken the public's anti-nuclear sentiment." And he goes on to say that "I would protest any move that would make it easier to start war."

Documentation on the above is from the INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE and THE ASAHI SHIMBUN of Tuesday July 3 2007.

In response, I thought this would be a good time to blog my poem about the destruction of civilian cities in World War Two, LUMBERJACKED CITIES, but, when I checked, I found I'd already posted it.

This poem is one of the 141 poems in GENGHIS LOTUS POETRY COLLECTION, the revised cover for which is at the top of this blog entry. Apart from LUMBERJACKED CITIES, there is a poem about Hiroshima, a poem about Nagasaki, and a long Cold War poem called I REEMEMBER ... nuclear war is a theme which has long occupied my imagination.

My own take on humanity's first nuclear war is this:

First, if you set your mind to it, then you can justify anything, including atomic war. But my own opinion is that engineering such justifications into existence is not a useful way to employ the human intellect.

Second, the entire debate about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has to be seen again the background of one key fact: the great powers which were allied against the Japanese state had set themselves the goal of achieving the absolute surrender of their enemies.

By this move, they deliberately precluded the possibility of some kind of negotiated settlement.

Last month, in the month of June, I taught a series of lessons at Waniguchi Gakko, the English conversation school near Waniguchi Station, in which we shared our parents' memories. I did this because I was running out of material and had a bunch of students with whom I'd already exhausted the topic of "my childhood memories."

So I thought our parents' memories would open up new ground, as indeed it did.

I kicked off with a couple of items from dinner time conversation in my parents' house. For example, when my father was sixteen or thereabouts, growing up in rural Somerset during the Second World War, he would sometimes go out on his bicycle to cycle around the countryside looking at bombs which had been dropped by German bombers.

His family home was en route to the city of Bristol, a major seaport and a legitimate strategic target, and sometimes German bombers which had failed to reach their target would unload their bombs at random over the unlit English countryside as they headed for war.

In opening up this subject I was not deliberately probing for war memories, but that what I got. Not always memories from the previous generation. Some of my students had personal memories of seeing the flames of Tokyo on the far horizon after the city was firebombed by the Americans.

And one surface memories of Hiroshima.

Her father died at Hiroshima, dying a classic Japanese death of what is known in Japan as "karoshi," death from overwork. He was a shipbuilding engineer working in the Hiroshima shipyards, and was felled by the sheer strain imposed by his part of the war effort.

Another member of her parents' generation was at Hiroshima when the bomb fell. He survived the blast so decided to walk to his hometown. There was no transport so he made the journey on foot, and it took two weeks.

My student asked me if I had any idea what condition someone would be in after having been hit by the blast of an atomic bomb, and I responded that, yes, I thought I had a reasonable idea.

The man who left Hiroshima on foot finally made it to his home town, looking more like someone dead than someone alive. He died the next day.

This story of the bombing of Hiroshima came home to me because it had a personal connection to someone I knew; because it came at me unexpectedly, without preamble; and because it gave me a new way of imaginatively reconstruction one fragmentary corner of the Hiroshima mosaic.

This is why there is such an enormous political firestorm in Japan: because many of those who survived the atomic bombings are still alive. And many of the younger generation grew up, as I did, with the stories of their parents' wars being told and retold at the dinner table.

One of my theories of Japanese culture is that the concept of "talk fast" does not exist in Japan. In the West, we have the idea that you can talk your way out of trouble, but my concept of Japanese culture is that this concept does not apply in Japan. What I believe, rightly or wrongly, is that Japanese people think that, once you're in trouble, talking your way out of it is not an option. It's better to clam up and say nothing.

So, watching Fumio Kyuma on Japanese TV today, Tuesday 3 July, I was surprised to say that he had no end of words to say, and I got the impression that maybe he did think he could talk his way out of this one.

But I don't think he will be able to.

This is a firestorm, I believe, that will burn and burn, growing as it burns, and we are now just at the start, not at the finish.

At 1611, Japan time, I went to Google News to get the latest, and saw that Kyuma had resigned.

Here's what he said at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, on Saturday and then retracted on Sunday:

"""I now have come to accept in my mind that in order to end the war, it could not be helped that an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and that countless numbers of people suffered great tragedy." ""

Although he's resigned, I think this may well prove to be yet one more nail in the career of Mr Abe, Japan's current prime minister. From where I'm standing, that career is looking increasingly like a coffin.

Expedition In Japan

Expedition In Japan

The four photos at the top of this blog entry were all taken at Nogeyama Zoo, the free zoo in Yokohama. They show a white peacock, a mouse microcity, three-year-old daughter Cornucopia doing her "assault on Everest" act on a rock face, and Hugh fulfilling a life-long dream by holding a live snake.

We went to Nogeyama because Cornucopia had been asking to pay the place a return visit. For our purposes, it's much better than the main zoo at Ueno, because it's a lot closer, it's little- visited, and it has a better petting zoo. The petting zoo at Ueno is sensibly stocked with robust animals - sheep and goats - which can handle life with the masses. By contrast, the petting zoo at Nogeyama has small animals, chiefly chicks and mice.

And also a snake.

When we showed up, the snakes were all behind glass in their enclosure. But, in due course, a cheerful woman dressed in a kind of dark green park ranger uniform showed up and took one of the snakes out of its enclosure.

Before she started handing it around, she very carefully cleaned it with a rag. My image of a snake is something that is clean and glittering, but, evidently, there's a certain amount of zoo filth associated with these animals.

Snakes live wild in both Tokyo and Yokohama. I once saw a very large snake basking in the sun not far from Tokyo station, right in the heart of central Tokyo. I saw it in the small part of the imperial palace gardens which is open to the public, and I was astonished. The Japanese citizens who were playing tourist in the same location were also astonished.

Later, while living at Hiyoshi, I occasionally saw snakes on the path that I used to sometimes take to get to the local Co-op supermarket. But, until Saturday 30 June, I'd never handled one.

Having done the zoo bit we pushed on by train to Odawara then took the switchback railway up to the heights of Hakone, where we stayed two nights in an onsen. At the onsen, wife and daughter went swimming in the outside hot pool along with the brain-eating amoebas, but I chose to soak indoors in the bath which came with our private room.

On the Sunday we took a scenic route (a rather foggy scenic route, since this is slap bang in the middle of the rainy season) up over a mountain ridge by cable car then down to a lake, which we crossed on an ornate pirate ship.

We returned to Yokohama well-satisfied with our trip and pretty exhausted.

On the Friday, Friday 29 June, I went to Meijin Hospital for yet another routine magnetic resonance imaging scan of my brain, which detected no problems. I met with my new doctor, whose Japanese name translates literally into English as Riverfield, who replaces my former doctor, the hematologist Dr Gunma, who has moved on to other pastures.

He scheduled a blood test for me three months out, at which stage he will book my next MRI, which will be in December.

My next adventure will be to get my body into gear. It's been two years or so since I finished chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but I still haven't started a physical fitness program. The time to do that is, I think, long overdue.

Immediately after treatment was over, I could not run. Not at all. But now I can comfortably jog trot for a hundred paces, and my daily routine usually involves me in walking forty minutes or so.

And my plan now is to start running again, building up to it slowly. The route I have in mind will take me up out of the valley where we live, tucked just under the ridge which cups the valley, down past the daycare center, across the railway tracks, left past the Place of the Sacred Carvings, left again to follow a path up through forest to the top of a hill, then down the hill to intersect a road which will lead me back to the railway crossing.

I figure it will probably be about four kilometers in length, but I will know once I have figured out the exact route and have walked it, since my standard pace, regardless of terrain, is one kilometer in every ten minutes.